This section helps you understand the rules in the Electoral Act 1993 that apply to third parties when campaigning at a parliamentary election.
- Election advertisements must contain a promoter statement.
- Election advertisements can be published at any time except on election day.
- Third parties cannot promote a candidate or party at any time without their written authorisation.
- Campaigning on election day is a criminal offence.
We’ll update this information when key dates for the 2020 General Election are announced.
All election advertisements, irrespective of when they are published, must include the name and address of the person that has initiated or instigated them (‘the promoter’). [See section 204F of the Electoral Act]
Failing to include a promoter statement is an offence and subject to a fine of up to $10,000 for unregistered promoters and $40,000 for registered promoters.
The form of words recommended by the Commission is: Promoted or Authorised by [promoter’s name], [promoter’s relevant full street address].
If the promoter is unregistered, and is an incorporated or unincorporated body, the promoter statement must also include the name of a member of the body who is the duly authorised representative of the promoter.
Promoted or Authorised by [duly authorised representative’s full name], [promoter’s name], [promoter’s relevant full street address].
For an incorporated or unincorporated body it can be the full street address of the body’s principal place of business or head office.
For registered promoters this should be the same address as shown on the Register of Registered Promoters. A Post Office box or website address is insufficient.
For an individual, the address can be the full street address of either the place where the promoter usually lives or any other place where the promoter can usually be contacted between the hours of 9am and 5pm on any working day.
This could be, for example:
- the individual’s campaign office address, or
- work address, provided that this is where he or she can usually be contacted between the hours of 9am and 5pm on any working day. An individual may need to consult their employer before including a work address on any election advertising.
The requirement for a promoter statement applies to all forms of election advertising in any medium.
If the election advertisement is published in a visual form, the promoter statement must be clearly displayed in the advertisement. If the election advertisement is published only in an audible form, the promoter statement must be no less audible than the other content of the advertisement.
Whether a promoter statement has been clearly displayed will need to be determined on a case by case basis taking into account the type of advertisement that is published. In the Commission’s view, this does not require that a person be able to read the promoter statement from where an election advertisement is intended to be viewed, for example on a billboard while driving. However, if a person inspects an election advertisement he or she should be able to read the promoter statement.
Where the website or webpage is an election advertisement, a promoter statement does not need to be included in each picture, article or entry on the site, provided the promoter statement is contained on the home page or the page that contains the election advertising.
Written authorisation to promote a candidate or party
Election advertisements promoting a candidate or party published by third parties must have the prior written authorisation of the candidate or party.
The costs of any third party advertisements published during the regulated period that promote a candidate or party will count towards your third party election expenses and may need to be disclosed in your return of third party election expenses as well as counting towards the candidate or party’s advertising expenses.
If a third party wants to spend $20,000 publishing these election advertisements during the regulated period for the election that encourage voters to vote for Party A, prior to publication;
- the third party must register as a promoter with the Electoral Commission, and
- must obtain the written authorisation of the party secretary of Party A.
If Party A agrees, and the item is published, it must include a promoter statement including the name and address of the third party.
The $20,000 cost of the election advertising will count toward both Party A and the third party’s election expense limits.
If a third party wants to spend $35,000 publishing these election advertisements during the regulated period that encourage voters not to vote for Party B, prior to publication, the third party must register as a promoter with the Electoral Commission.
The prior written authorisation is not required from any party to publish this ad.
The advertisement must include a promoter statement including the name and address of the third party.
The $35,000 cost of the election advertising will count towards just the third party’s election expense limits.
What is an election advertisement?
An election advertisement is an advertisement in any medium that may reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to:
- vote, or not to vote, for a constituency candidate (whether or not the name of the candidate is stated)
- vote, or not to vote, for a party (whether or not the name of the party is stated)
- vote, or not to vote, for a type of candidate or party described by reference to views or positions that are, or are not, held or taken (whether or not the name of the candidate or party are stated).
[See section 3A of the Electoral Act]
The Electoral Act does not define ‘advertisement’ but, because the definition of ‘election advertisement’ covers an advertisement ‘in any medium’, the Commission considers that the term ‘advertisement’ should be interpreted broadly. For example, it is not limited to traditional forms of advertising such as newspapers, posters, billboards, leaflets and radio and television broadcasting. It includes online advertising and can be paid or unpaid. The test is whether the advertisement can ‘reasonably’ be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote, or not to vote, for a party or candidate, or type of party or candidate.
This is an objective test to be determined considering the effect of the advertisement as a whole. The effect of the advertisement will depend not only on its content, but also its style and apparent purpose, and factual context. To be an election advertisement the advertisement need not include the name of a party or candidate, and the encouragement or persuasion to vote, or not to vote, can be direct or indirect.
Other relevant factors that need to be considered can relate to who the promoter is and whether or not there is a public interest in knowing the promoter’s identity which will depend on whether or not the promoter is expressing views that are personal in nature and not incurring significant expense or represents a group or vested interest.
The courts have said that the assessment is to be made from the perspective of a reasonable observer, sensitive to the exceptionally high value of political speech in a democracy. (The Electoral Commission v Watson & Anor 2016)
Election advertisements that may reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote, or not to vote, for a constituency candidate (whether or not the name of the candidate is stated) are called candidate advertisements. Election advertisements that may reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote, or not to vote, for a party (whether or not the name of the party is stated) are called party advertisements.
All requirements in respect of election advertisements apply to:
- election advertisements published in New Zealand even if the promoter is outside of New Zealand, and
- election advertisements published outside of New Zealand where the promoter is in New Zealand.
Publish means to bring to the notice of a person in any manner, excluding addressing one or more persons face to face.
Example: Newspaper Ad
This type of ad would be an election advertisement because it may reasonably be regarded as encouraging voters to vote for Party A.
If a third party wants to spend $15,000 publishing this advertisement during the regulated period, prior to publication,
- the third party must register as a promoter with the Electoral Commission, and
- must obtain the written authorisation of the party secretary of Party A
If Party A agrees, and the item is published, it must include a promoter statement including the name and address of the third party.
The $15,000 cost of the election advertising will count toward both Party A and the third party’s election expense limits.
Election advertisement exemptions
The legislation makes it clear that the following are not election advertisements:
- editorial content
- personal political views online
- a member of Parliament’s contact details.
There is an exemption for the editorial content of a periodical, a radio or television programme, or news media internet site. The Electoral Act does not define ‘editorial content’ but the Commission’s view is that it includes any part of the publication except advertising or advertorial. It can include opinion and editorial pieces written by others and reader contributions that the editor has chosen to publish. A periodical is a newspaper, magazine, or journal established for purposes unrelated to the election, that has been published at regular intervals and is available to the public.
Personal political views online
There is an exemption for the publication of personal political views by an individual on the Internet or other electronic medium, provided the individual does not make or receive payment for publishing those views. Individuals expressing personal political views on social media such as Facebook and Twitter are covered by this exemption and will not need to include a promoter statement. This exemption covers political views that are personal in nature. It does not extend to political views expressed on behalf of a group, organisation or views of a political party.
Where an election advertisement posted on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media site is ‘liked’, ‘shared’, ‘retweeted’ or ‘reblogged’ by another person, it is the Commission’s view that the individual content appearing elsewhere online will not require a promoter statement if it appears on those other pages as the expression of personal political views by an individual who does not make or receive payment in respect of the publication of those views.
MP contact details
There is also an exemption for the publication of contact information by MPs.
Further information for MPs is available in the Commission’s publication MP Handbook – General Election 2017.
Requesting an advisory opinion from the Electoral Commission
We are very happy to provide a view where you are uncertain about how the rules apply to particular advertising.
You can ask us for advice on whether, in the Commission’s opinion, an advertisement constitutes an ‘election advertisement’ under the law. The advisory opinion will be provided as soon as is reasonably practicable. The opinion of the Commission is not legally binding but reflects the Commission’s interpretation of the law. A court of law may reach a different view and you may still wish to seek your own legal advice.
To request an advisory opinion please provide a copy of the advertisement and all relevant background information about the context of publication such as the details of when and how it is to be published and on what scale.
Requests can be made by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will respond as soon as we can. We have a maximum target turnaround of 5 working days.
The Commission will treat the proposed advertisement, any supporting material, and the advice given to the requestor as confidential until the day after the day for the return of the writ for the election.
Advisory opinions will then be available on request, subject to the Official Information Act 1982. This does not prohibit the requestor from releasing the advice at any time.
An advertisement ‘relating to an election’
Even if an advertisement does not come within the definition of an ‘election advertisement’, it must still contain a promoter statement if it is ‘advertising relating to an election’ that is published in any newspaper, periodical, poster or flyer or broadcast on radio or television. [Section 221A of the Electoral Act]
For example, a poster promoted by a third party that encourages the public to vote or not to vote at the election or encourages voters to think about a particular issue when they vote may not fulfil the definition of an election advertisement because there is no direct or indirect reference to a candidate or party or type of candidate or party. However, the advertisement will still need to have a promoter statement on it to comply with section 221A because it is ‘election-related’.
The cost of these types of election-related advertisements are not counted as part of a third party’s election expenses.
Radio or television advertising
Recent case law has confirmed that third parties may broadcast election advertisements at any time, except for election day, provided they meet the promoter statement, authorisation, expenditure and registration requirements for election advertisements broadcast on radio and television, or the promoter statement requirements for election-related advertising under section 221A of the Electoral Act.
Example: Radio Ad
If a third party wants to spend $10,000 broadcasting radio advertisements to encourage people to vote, this is not an election advertisement or election programme.
There would be no requirement to register as a promoter.
The $10,000 would not be an election expense.
It is however, election related and section 221A of the Act requires that a promoter statement still be included so that voters know who has promoted it.
Canvassing and surveys
The rules relating to the requirement for a promoter statement and election expenses apply to election advertisements that are ‘published’. However, the definition of publish expressly excludes addressing one or more persons face to face. This means that face to face canvassing activities are exempt from the requirement for a promoter statement and do not need to be considered in terms of election expenses.
Whether telephone canvassing or surveys are election advertisements depends on their content. The Electoral Act includes an express exemption for surveys and opinion polls from the definition of election expenses but this does not mean everything published in a survey format will automatically be exempt.
If a survey goes beyond merely eliciting voter’s views and can reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote or not vote for a constituency candidate or political party (often referred to as push polling) then it will be an election advertisement. If survey questions promote a party or candidate’s policies, for example by asking questions in a leading way and directing the answers, then the survey is likely to be an election advertisement and needs to comply with the election advertising rules.
We are happy to review a proposed script or survey and provide a view on whether or not it is an election advertisement.
Websites and social media
Where a website, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or other social media, is used by a third party to express third party political views on behalf of a group, the exemption for personal political views does not apply.
To determine whether a website or social media page is an election advertisement, the Commission looks at the content of the site or page as a whole. A third party website may be made up of several pages containing, for example, information about the third party and its objectives, how to join or donate to the third party and other information.
If a third party website has content that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote, or not vote, for a party or a candidate, the whole website will be an election advertisement.
The same approach is taken when considering social media. For example, whether or not a third party’s Facebook page is an election advertisement, the Commission looks at the Facebook page as a whole, including the content the third party is responsible for publishing such as the third party’s posts and profile photos. Generally, where individuals post comments on a third party’s Facebook page the personal political views exemption is likely to apply to those posts.
Where the website or webpage is an election advertisement, a promoter statement does not need to be included in each picture, article or post on the site, provided the promoter statement is contained on the home page or the page that contains the election advertising.
On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube we recommend you include the promoter statement in the ‘About’ or profile section for your account or channel.
Where you pay for an election advertisement to appear unsolicited on another person’s web page, for example, a promoted post or banner advertisement on Facebook or Twitter, a promoter statement must be included on the advertisement itself. You cannot rely on a link back to another page which contains a promoter statement.
If there are a limited number of pixels to include a promoter statement on the advertisement it is acceptable to abbreviate the promoter statement, for example ‘Promoted by Anthony Secretary, 111 Any Street, Auckland’ could be abbreviated to ‘A Secretary, 111 Any St, AKLD’.
References to websites
If advertising contains a website reference, depending on how the website is being used in the advertisement, the content of the website may be considered in determining whether the advertisement is an election advertisement for the purposes of the Act.
For example, if the statement: ‘Go to www.standupforanimals.com to find out more’ is included in a print advertisement, both the content of the print advertisement and the website content would be taken into account.
Listing a website is fine, but if you use words or graphics that encourage readers to visit a website, the content of both the publicity and the website will need to be considered.
Local authorities are responsible for regulating when, where, and how election signs can be displayed. You should consult with local authorities about their rules before putting up any election signs.
As the rules may vary between each local authority, the Electoral Act allows election signs up to 3 square metres in size to be put up from 9 weeks before election day.
This provision overrides any more restrictive local authority rules about the size of signs and when they can go up, but it does not mean signs can go up anywhere from this date. Local authority rules about the location and density of signs and any application procedures to put up electoral signs will still apply. Some local authorities may allow larger signs to be put up and for signs to be put up before it is 9 weeks before election day.
Any queries or complaints about signs being up should be directed to the relevant local authority.
You must not pay an elector to display an electoral sign unless it is in the course of the elector’s business.
It is an offence under the Electoral Act to display election signs on election day.
Treating is the provision of food, drink, and entertainment to persons with the intention of corruptly influencing their vote and is a criminal offence. [See section 217 of the Electoral Act for a full description]
The consequences of a conviction for treating are significant, including imprisonment, loss of a parliamentary seat or disqualification as a voter for three years.
The Electoral Act states that the provision of a light supper after an election meeting does not constitute the offence of treating. The provision of a cup of tea or coffee and a light snack after a campaign meeting, therefore, is not treating.
You should be cautious about providing refreshments in connection with election-related activities that do not clearly fall within the above exception to avoid complaints being made during the election campaign that you have breached the treating provisions.
Campaigning near advance voting places
The restrictions that prevent electioneering on election day do not apply during the advance voting period. However, there are restrictions on campaigning inside or within 10 metres of an entrance to an advance voting place ('the buffer zone').
The full list of prohibited activities is set out in section 197A of the Electoral Act which effectively prohibits anything that can be said to interfere with or influence voters, including processions, speeches or public statements in a buffer zone.
Signs, clothing and other campaign material featuring party or candidate names, emblems, slogans or logos cannot be displayed or handed out inside the advance voting place or anywhere within the buffer zone. However, scrutineers and party supporters may still wear a party lapel badge.
The rules about filming and photography in an advance voting place are the same as those on election day.
Complaints about election advertising
The rules in the Electoral Act and the Broadcasting Act impose procedural or timing requirements on publishers and broadcasters. The restriction on candidates and parties broadcasting election programmes outside the election period, and the requirement for all election advertising to contain a promoter statement are examples.
The legislation does not prescribe the substantive content of election advertisements, and election programmes, but publishers and broadcasters must comply with the relevant broadcasting standards or codes of practice.
The Electoral Commission is responsible for considering complaints about the breaches of election advertising rules and the election day rules under the Electoral Act 1993 and election programmes under Part 6 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. The Commission has no prosecution or enforcement role. If the Commission believes an offence has been committed it must report the facts to the New Zealand Police. For a limited number of Electoral Act offences the Commission does not have to report an offence if the offence is so inconsequential that there is no public interest in reporting those facts to the Police.
Complaints can be made in writing to email@example.com or by post to the Electoral Commission at PO Box 3220, Wellington.
Broadcasting Standards Authority
Election programmes on television and radio (which include party and candidate advertisements) come within the jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA).
Election programmes must comply with the Election Programme Code which is available on the BSA website.
Third party programmes about election matters must comply with the relevant broadcasting standards for radio, Free-to-Air TV or Pay TV.
Complaints about an election programme under the Election Programme Code must be made directly to the BSA:
Complaints about election-related broadcasting by broadcasters and third parties under the broadcasting standards must be made to the broadcaster in the first instance. If a complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of their complaint to the broadcaster, they are entitled to refer their complaint to the BSA for review.
For advice on the codes or the complaints process contact the BSA (telephone 0800 366 996 or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Advertising Standards Authority
The content of election advertising in all media other than election programmes on television and radio comes within the jurisdiction of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Advertising must comply with the ASA Codes of Practice.
The codes are available on the ASA website. See also the Advocacy Advertising Principles Guidance.
Complaints can be made directly to:
The New Zealand Media Council is responsible for considering any complaints about the editorial content of a newspaper, magazine or periodical in circulation in New Zealand (including their websites) or digital sites, with news content, that have been accepted as a member of the Council.
Generally a person bringing a complaint against a publication must, unless exempted by the Executive Director of the Council, first lodge the complaint in writing with the editor of the publication.
If the complainant is not satisfied by the editor’s response or receives no response from the editor within a period of 10 working days from the date on which the editor received the complaint, the complainant may then complain to the Media Council (online at www.mediacouncil.org.nz or PO Box 10 879, The Terrace, Wellington, 6143).
Complaints must be made in writing preferably using the online form. Further information about the complaints procedure, time limits for bringing complaints, and a list of members of the Media Council are available at www.mediacouncil.org.nz.